By Katherine Kurbatov
Edited by Savvas Savvinidis
A pristine white building has been introduced to Gulf Blvd. In lazy ballpoint cursive the sign reads “Selene.” It stands out among the string of tropical pastel buildings and playful wooden signs with names like “Crabby Bill’s” and “Willy’s Burgers & Booze.”
St. Pete Beach local Lyudmila Goncharov was driving down the beach running an errand when the new restaurant caught her eye.“I was just looking for somewhere cool to grab lunch with girlfriends from out of town, and maybe a glass of wine, or five,” said the stressed mother of four with a goofy smile.
St. Pete Beach has been ranked the number four best beach in the U.S. by Trip Advisor. Vacationers come from all over the world to walk our powdery white sands. High schoolers sit antsy in their seats, waiting for the bell to ring so they can scramble to the beach and enjoy the last hours of warm sunlight.
With the exception of hotel restaurants at the Don Cesar and the Grand Plaza, casual beach dining has dominated this side of town for decades. The beach is full of sandy bars where you’re welcomed in most places sporting flip flops and boardshorts.
“All the places down here are all about fried seafood, daiquiris, fries, you know… live music, that whole Key West vibe,” said Goncharov.
The attractive patio held tall space heaters that one would usually find on Beach Drive. Downtown St. Pete typically hosts all of the trendier joints like this one, where you’d go to find something unique, fresh, and innovative, but it’s a highway between that and the beaches.
Nick Skiadiotis, owner of Skidders Café on St Pete Beach, has recently opened Selene, a fine dining restaurant with a unique Mediterranean fusion menu specializing in seafood and steaks. Skidders Café has long been a favorite of the locals, offering a comfortable family-owned atmosphere and authentic Greek cuisine. The Skiadiotis family has been in business for over 40 years.
“We wanted to bring downtown to the beach,” he exclaims enthusiastically through his thick accent, gesturing to the main dining room. “St. Pete Beach needs something like this.”
Walking in, the first thing one would notice is the stylish décor. There’s a dainty chandelier in the front decorated with round bulbs. The floor is covered in 60s-inspired black and white tile. The bar stools are covered in plush, Mediterranean-blue leather.“The interior design was influenced by Greece and hotels in New York; it’s very modern and clean,” said Steve, the general manager.
It’s a Friday evening and the restaurant is entirely packed with well-dressed patrons chattering loudly over Milky Chance’s “Stolen Dance.”
A middle-aged woman with perfectly coiffed curls slips on her Burberry reading glasses as she examines the wine list. A waitress in all black attire balances two wine glasses between her fingers while punching orders into a computer screen. There is a loose yet immaculate feel to the place, from the posture of the staff down to the floral scented candles on each table.
The head chef, Nikola Karvelas, gained fame in Greek cookery working at some of the top professional kitchens in Athens alongside world renowned culinary stars, making him him the perfect candidate for Selene. He was awarded the bronze medal at the Young Chef’s Contest in Cyprus in 1999. He has since worked all over the world, including at “Anassa Taverna” in downtown Manhattan. You can see a devotion to his South European roots shine through the menu.
“We strive to give our guests the optimum experience, to invite them in and have them try something they’ve never had before,” he explains. “Everything is made fresh from scratch, never frozen. The ingredients speak for [themselves.]”
Lyudmila Goncharov ended up dining at Selene with her family for a going-away dinner. “We tried the grilled octopus, oysters, ahi tuna, and everything was super, super fresh and different,” she says. “It all has a European feel to it, but the portions were perfect. You know how you go to fine dining places and pay a lot for the smallest portions? I hate that.” She laughs.
As for the price range, a young couple could come in during happy hour, have a few appetizers and drinks with a bill as low as $25-$30. On the other hand, a group of businessmen arrive, order top shelf drinks, appetizers, entrees, dessert, and easily end up with a check breaching $500.
Happy hour boasts a variety of appetizers such as roasted quail and spinach pie from $5 to $7. The domestic and craft beers, house wines, and liquors range from $3 to $4.
What’s so distinctive about the menu is their specialty fish, caught in the wild and immediately flown in straight from the Mediterranean. “It can’t get any more authentic than this,” said Steve. They carry branzino, monkfish, black grouper and salmon nest. The featured steaks are grass-fed and organic. “They’re seared to a 1200 degree perfection, and come out juicy and flavorful,” said Skiadiotis.
Each and every bottle of wine was taste-tested over a span of three months leading up to the opening. “You won’t see any of these wines anywhere in Tampa Bay. We purposely chose wines that you can’t be able to find at any other place,” said Karvelas. “We went out of the way to get these wines on our list to set the standard and stand out from both downtown and the beaches,” Steve adds.
Karvelas explains that every ingredient in the cocktails, down to the syrup, is made in the house from scratch. “We made the ‘Old Fashioned’ the ‘New Fashioned’, for obvious reasons,” he says. “We want to change things up and put a fresh spin on classic drinks.” The New Fashioned contains vanilla bean and orange zest infused Bourbon, fresh lemon, simple syrup, egg white, and bitters.
Rachel Cornel, a bartender at Selene, has a little fun with mixology. She is influenced by music on the daily and invented a few cocktails like “Giny Hendrix” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The white sangria is made with rose water and garnished with roses, and the red sangria is “heaver, warmer, and an excellent way to end the night,” says Skiadiotis.
The managers ran a comprehensive five-day training for all of the staff before opening, making sure they got to taste every single dish on the menu, from the duck monkfish sliders blended with herbs to the seared scallops topped with barbecue slaw. Calamari is paired with a cuttlefish ink sauce, rather than your traditional marinara. Fans of bruschetta might be intrigued by Selene’s take on the dish, which features sea urchin.
“We like to add an element of surprise to each dish. We aim to be experimental but keep people coming back,” says Karvelas.
Skiadiotis says instead of concentrating on advertising, they’re letting the guests spread the word, and so far they’ve had consistent business. “We might have live music, performances… special things coming in the future, but right now we’re concentrated on our guests and shooting for perfection.” Like any restaurant, the managers admit they hit bumps in the road here and there. Friday nights at busy restaurants are known to be absolute hell, but guests seem to be enjoying themselves at Selene.